Premechandran urges general amnesty for Tamil detainees

dsc_3244“I don’t see any difference between the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – both were armed militants. Both organisations wanted to liberate their people,” stresses Leader of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front and member of Tamil National Alliance Suresh Premechandran. 

“If a general amnesty was granted to the JVP, why can’t the Government do the same with Tamil detainees? After all both groups were involved in an armed intrusion,” Premechandran pointed out.

“How do you separate these two parties?” he queries, adding, “The JVP wanted to liberate  Sri Lanka for the Sinhala people. The LTTE wanted to liberate the Tamil people and therefore wanted a separate State. Both were armed militants. You can brand the LTTE as terrorists but Tamils brand them as liberators. 

I don’t see any difference between the JVP and the LTTE given the background.”

The former Jaffna District Parliamentarian further queried why the Government was labelling detainees as terrorists, if the Government could release KP and allow him to move about freely and if Karuna Amman could become the Deputy Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and be a Deputy Minister.

Following are excerpts of an interview with the Daily FT:

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Q: What is the latest with regard to releasing PTA detainees?
A:
The Government says the detainees will be sent to rehabilitation camps batch by batch. But I don’t know when they are going to start this. I don’t know whether they will accommodate everybody or they are only going to send a few. Nobody knows these things. Actually there is no proper response from the Government side. Swaminathan went to the Magazine prison and said the detainees would be sent to the rehabilitation centre and the first batch would be sent within 10 days.
There are about 46 to 48 convicted prisoners. There are 126 prisoners with cases in the High Court. There are 66 prisoners with cases in the Magistrate Courts. We do not know how they are going to do these things. The prisoners are demanding to have a general amnesty. But what the Government is saying is that they want all the detainees sent to the rehabilitation centres and released later.
What has happened is that they have released some of them on bail. They are going to file cases against them. Unfortunately the Government does not have a political solution on this matter.
Q: What do you actually want?
A:
These prisoners want a general amnesty. If the President and the Cabinet take decision, these detainees can be released. Then that is the end of the story. But now they have taken a decision to give the power to the Attorney General’s Department. The AG’s Department will take this up case by case. They will release a few, give bail to a few. We do not know how they will handle it.
Q: How many detainees are there altogether?
A:
I don’t have the exact figures. May be more than 280. This is what I heard. Earlier they said 278. I don’t know the exact figure now. It may be 220 to 275.
Q: You seem to be unhappy that the detainees are being released in batches?
A:
The political prisoners want to have a general amnesty. We can only be happy if the Government grants a general amnesty. If they are unable to do that the Government should send all the detainees to a rehabilitation centre so they could be released after six months or one year. But nothing has happened. Actually we do not know what they will do. There is no ground to be happy about giving bail and things like that. Investigations will continue. They can file new cases. They can even be arrested again. We need to have a political decision on this matter. During the JVP time, all the JVPers were given a general amnesty. Even after the Indo-Lanka Accord, a general amnesty was given to others. Why can’t they do the same? Why can’t they grant a general amnesty to these detainees?
Q: Do you think it is correct to compare the JVP and the LTTE, given that the latter is a terrorist organisation internationally?
A:
Both the JVP and the LTTE were involved in an armed intrusion. The JVP wanted to liberate Sri Lanka for the Sinhala people. The LTTE wanted to liberate the Tamil people, therefore wanted a separate State. Both were armed militants. How do you separate these two parties? You can brand the LTTE as terrorists but Tamils brand them as liberators. I don’t see any difference between the JVP and the LTTE given the background.
The Government released KP and has allowed him to move very freely. He can run the NGO. The Government made Karuna the Deputy Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. They made him a Deputy Minister. How can the Government claim the people who are in jail are terrorists?

Q: You say these people are political prisoners. But this Government has clearly said it no longer has any political prisoners. Your comments?
A:
That is absolute rubbish. They have the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to hurt whoever is fighting against the Government. They don’t want to bring them under criminal laws. They have brought all these people under the PTA because these are the people who were LTTEers or supporters of the LTTE or people who have given some sort of food or water to the LTTE. Those are the cases filed against these people. They are not criminals. They belong to a party and they have supported a party. That is why we say they are political prisoners.

Q: There are allegations that by demanding the release of these prisoners, you are interfering with the country’s law and order. Do you agree?
A:
The Government proudly says it has already rehabilitated 10,000 LTTE cadres. If they can proudly say that, I don’t know why they are keeping 250 of LTTE cadres without releasing them. I don’t see any sense here.
The Government is only trying to tell the international community ‘look we have rehabilitated them and sent them to society’. If they wanted they could have sent these people for rehabilitation. Some have been there for the last eight to 10 years. I know there are cases were they have been taken in for giving food to the LTTE. The case is going on for eight years. That is almost equivalent to a 15 year sentence. A life sentence could be finished within 14 to 15 years. You must understand these things.
We are not interfering with Sri Lanka’s law and order. These are political matters. That is why we are asking the Government to consider them politically. The Government has earlier given general amnesties to various people. Not only that; on Independence Day, on the perahera day, the President gives pardon to criminals in this country. Why can’t these detainees be pardoned? 275 is not a big number. Such action will bring better understanding among communities too.

Q: Some fear releasing these detainees will pose a serious threat to the country’s security. What are your remarks about such charges?
A:
That is absolute rubbish. Sinhalese extremist forces want to create problems to make this Government uncomfortable. They don’t want to allow the Government to handle this matter in a proper way. They are only trying to pressurise the Government. This so-called National Government is having its own problems. The Opposition is trying to create more problems. That is why they are shouting with these baseless allegations.
The war ended in 2009 and this is 2015. For the last six years not a single violent act has taken place in north or eastern part of this country. How can anybody say releasing these prisoners will be a threat to the country’s security? That is absolute rubbish.

Q: TNA MP M. Sumanthiran has said these detainees will be rehabilitated once they are released. Why don’t you allow the Government to first rehabilitate and then release them?
A:
I don’t know what Sumanthiran has said. The Government before releasing the detainees will send them for rehabilitation. They will not release the detainees without doing that. What Sumanthiran said is not correct.

Q: Why do you insist on change the name of ‘Nagadeepa’ to Nainathivu?
A:
Nagadeepa is not the original name of that place. It is an island and the original name of that place is Nainathivu. In Tamil an island is called ‘thivu’ and there are seven islands in the northern part of this country. All the names of those islands end as thivu. Nainathivu is one of the oldest of those islands. The Buddhist temple came up later. But as Tamils we did not make any objections and agreed. Even after the temple was built, in all the records the island was referred as Nainathivu. It is not us who are creating problems. Before Nagadeepa there is a very old Amman temple. Now they want to change the name to ‘Nagadeepa’. They are creating problems. How can the Government do that arbitrarily?

Q: Nagadeepa has immense significance and importance to Buddhists in this country. Changing it to Nainathivu would lead to unnecessary problems in the country. Do you agree?
A:
That may be true, but this is a Tamil island. It is in the north. There is much older Hindu temple there. We are not against the Buddhist temple. Let me reiterate, the name of the island is Nainathivu. Any Buddhist can come, any Sinhalese can come. But why do they want to change the original name of that island? Will they allow Tamils to go to Hambantota or Galle and change one of their village names? There is freedom for anyone to go to any part of this country and pray anywhere. Not only the Nagadeepa temple, Buddhists go to the Amman temple too. Things are happening smoothly. But recently during the election they started calling it Nagadeepa. That is when all these unnecessary problems started. Otherwise there were no issues.

Q: Instead of passing resolutions, what have you actually done to uplift the lives of Northern people?
A:
You have to pose that question to the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council. There is a Chief Minister, there are Ministers and Provincial Council Members. You have to ask them that question.

Q: As a politician who fights for rights of the Tamils in this country, are you satisfied with what the Northern Provincial Council has done?
A:
No Government can satisfy the people 100%. Whether it’s a UNP government or a SLFP government, there will be problems. I am not satisfied with the present Government. Nobody will be satisfied with any government because they have high expectations. In the Northern Provincial Council too, we are having so many problems. We are after a war. People are expecting many things from us. People want to be resettled in their own areas.
The Chief Minister cannot do it. People want us to provide them with livelihood but the Chief Minister cannot do it because he doesn’t have money. He needs the support of the Central Government to carry out his work. The Government is treating some of the provincial councils in a different way and in a different manner. I don’t want to give a clean ticket to the Northern Provincial Council because they are not doing much. But it does not mean they are not doing anything.

Q: Wigneswaran last week released a press communiqué clarifying a statement made by Sumanthiran. What is actually happening inside the TNA?
A:
You have to ask Sumanthiran and Chief Minister Wigneswaran about that.

Q: What is the stand of the TNA regarding the dispute?
A:
It’s not a party matter. It a personal matter of Sumanthiran and Wigneswaran. You have to ask them.

Q: Is there a rift in the party?
A:
Definitely through these letters you will know there are contradictions within the party. That’s all I can say.

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